by Alex Bennet
from HUSTLER Magazine December 2010
THE FUTURE IS HERE, BUT IS IT THE ONE WE WANTED?
As far back as I can remember, I’ve been obsessed with technology. I bought my first PC before they had hard drives; all it had were two 5-inch floppy disks and virtually no memory at all. I was thrilled. If it was electronic, I reveled in the fact that I was living in the future I had always dreamed of. My Web site went up before most people even knew what the World Wide Web was. I had to learn the code that it took to put a page online. No short-cut programs—just hard code.
Nor was my interest in technology limited to computers. I remember buying a stereo TV adapter before there was any programming and a DVD player before there were any discs. Yes, I was crazy about tech and walked the walk. Now, however, I’m morphing into the kind of person I once eschewed. I’m becoming a Luddite. The term derives from a group of British weavers in 1811— led by a man named Ned Ludd—who destroyed textile machines in the belief that they would cost jobs. Today the term has come to mean anyone who opposes technology or technological change.
Ted Kaczynski, the Unabomber, was the ultimate Luddite. In his manifesto he raged against technology, claiming it would erode human freedom. It wasn’t that old Ted didn’t have a point; the problem was that he blew people up. Now locked up in the Supermax prison, Ted can languish for the rest of his life technology-free.
The question I had to ask myself was were these advances a blessing or a curse? Let’s examine some of them.
Cell phones are great. On the one hand, we can take them anywhere, talk on them anytime. On the other hand, we are always at somebody else’s disposal, especially bosses who can now keep us working regardless of where we are.Then there’s the question of quality. How many times have you yelled the phrase “Can you hear me?!” into your phone? The damn thing keeps dropping calls or, worse, the calls start breaking up. I think of the smartphone as a less sophisticated computer that makes lousy phone calls.
Let’s talk about the beloved Internet. It’s the world at your fingertips and an endless repository of information. Right? Wrong! It’s actually a cesspool of misinformation. No one’s out there to vet the material. When I write something here, I have editors who fact-check what I’m saying. Who’s doing that for people writing on the Internet? Pure lies can be disseminated, and you wind up telling a friend “It must be true” because you saw it on the Internet. The biggest beneficiaries of the Internet are scammers and pedophiles.
While we’re on the subject of the Internet, we should talk about communication. In our quest for instant gratification, nothing beats e-mail. You type it, you send it, and someone gets it. No more cramps from pesky handwriting, no stamps to adhere and no mailbox. But e-mail doesn’t have the same impact as a thoughtfully written or typed letter. Even rejection letters seem nicer when they come through the postal system. E-mail just doesn’t transmit emotion very well. Things like love and sarcasm don’t come across unless you use those stupid emoticons like .
Then there’s texting. You have to abbreviate your thoughts: Mk yr spellng shrter. And how do you tell when it’s over?
“See you later.”
“Are we through?”
“There is no God.”
It’s maddening. I asked somebody why he sends text messages when they’re going to phone numbers that could just as easily be called. The answer was “I don’t have to talk to them.”
The worst may be social networking, which isn’t very social at all. It’s really just a way to avoid human contact. Facebook allows for a couple of sentences, which go out to all your “friends.” (“Hi, everybody. I just jerked off.”) To its credit, however, Facebook also permits the sending of longer private messages to a single individual. Also on the plus side, I have touched base with people I haven’t talked to in years. That, however, is usually a onetime deal. You never communicate with them again—at least until there’s a new Internet craze.
Twitter, on the other hand, just cuts to the chase, only allowing 140 characters per message. It’s the less sociable Facebook.
Two last things: How many times does your high-def cable stutter and freeze? Did that ever happen with your analog TV? And digital audio doesn’t sound better than your old LPs, which had a great dynamic range and weren’t compressed. You think it’s better only because today’s manufacturers have numbed down what you expect from audio.
Sure, I suppose we are in a technologically better age, but have life’s simple pleasures been the tradeoff? Or is it possible to still have both? Well, don’t worry. I’m not off to my mountain cabin to make bombs.
Alex Bennett is a longtime HUSTLER contributor. The two-time Emmy winner, who broke into broadcasting as a teenager, can be heard on Sirius Left. 146 (9 a.m. to noon ET) and XM America Left 167 (midnight to 3 a.m. ET).